Friday, March 4, 2011

Max's School Bus


              I would like to thank the local school district for providing a lifetime’s worth of entertainment through my junior high and high school years. This was during the late 60’s and early 70’s. We rode the school bus for an hour plus in the morning and an equal term again in the evening. The entire trip was filled with laughter and excitement as we entertained each other during the long commute. It was a place where we had minimal supervision and maximum latitude of expression. Some youngsters did homework but my circle of friends did not include any of the studying types. However, we did learn a lot during these bus rides.

            At school, when we did get caught and disciplined, we usually knew we had it coming. Even if we acted irresponsibly, we usually accepted responsibility.  For punishment, we often received hacks (“Bend over and grab your ankles and then WACK with a large wooden paddle.)  

In today’s world, the bus driver would have been censured for yanking on our hair and yelling at us. Also, the teacher giving the paddling would definitely have been thrown in the clink for child abuse and gotten sued by the parents. In today’s world, many parents insist that their child is an innocent bystander, berating the other parents for what “their delinquent hellion did to our innocent child.” Back then, the parents just figured the kid probably had it coming. They were usually correct.

The modern mentality and all-powerful but upside down legal system we allow and espouse in today’s world is bloated with greed and generally unfamiliar with common sense. Lawyers today always have a good chance of convincing a jury or judge of any desired conclusion, regardless of the truth and depending pretty much on how much their client can pay. Some of the decisions that are made in the judicial system of today make justice and common sense recoil with distress. This is exactly why I told my kid to go to the University of Virginia Law School. He went and graduated. Just like I did from high school. But enough of my take on the legal system.
            Our bus driver was named Max. He was a short little guy who knew hundreds of homespun poems by heart. I loved the guy! He would drive the bus and us to school each morning, do plumbing work in the little town of Connell all day and then haul us home in the evening. He stood about 4’10”. He had 2”x4” wood blocks wired to each of the clutch, brake and gas pedals so his feet could reach them. He spent more time looking in the mirror, trying to catch us at whatever we were up to than he did watching the road. He would yell instructions, reprimands and threats at us without pausing to breathe. Often, he would run out of air but kept yelling. There would be no sound but his mouth would still be moving. We thought this was great fun. It’s lucky he didn’t pass out from lack of oxygen.

            Spit wads were often the weapon of choice. Not only would we hit each other but at times the wads were directed at Max if we felt he deserved them. It became a contest. He constantly glared in his mirror to catch the “shooter” while we would see who could score a bull’s eye without getting caught.

Countless were the opportunities we took for recreation. Often one or two of us would get turned in and be required to have our parents visit with the driver or the school principal. Once in a while we would get kicked off the bus and have to find another way to school for a week or two. I remember walking several miles each morning and night to a different bus route area because Max wouldn’t let me on his bus.

            In eighth grade, we had an especially memorable experience. At that time, in my group of friends, we each owned a chrome cigarette lighter. It was “the” thing to have. You didn’t have to smoke to be cool, you just had to have a lighter. We would grasp the lighter between our thumb and middle and forefingers. We would then snap our fingers off the top of the lighter and catch the base of it with our fingers and thumb. If we were successful, the top would pivot away from the lighter and a pleasant clicking sound would occur. This was all done with one hand. This maneuver took a little practice but once mastered, made us feel like we were pro-lighter operators.

            One afternoon after school, those of us who were in 7th and 8th grade got on the bus at the junior high school and then rode across town to the high school to pick the big kids up. My buddies and I were in the back of the bus. Scot #1 was in the back corner and Brian and I were sitting directly in front of him.

For some reason, Scot #1 was trying to fill a balloon with gas from a butane lighter refill canister. As the high schoolers were loading into the front of the bus, Scot #1 accidentally snapped off the top of the gas canister. He yelled “What should I do?”

Brian happened to have his lighter in his hand. He turned around and said “Here, let me light it!” Scot yelled “NO, NO, NO!” He then began the humanly impossible feat of frantically climbing up the curved backside of the bus with his own backside but it was too late--the play was in motion. Apparently Brian didn’t understand the meaning of the word “no”.


The air around us was instantly filled with flames. It lasted just a couple of seconds but hung around long enough to singe our hair and eyebrows. Actually, a couple of seconds is all any good explosion takes.

It also provided the oncoming high school students with a panoramic view of the back end of their very own school bus totally engulfed in flames. They started screaming and exiting en masse via the stampede method. The canister remained on fire and it rolled around on the floor spewing flames for a few seconds and then went out. I would guess 3 or 4 minutes elapsed before the commotion settled down and Max was able to find his extinguisher and get to the back of the bus. As volunteer but not-sworn-in firefighters, we had everything under control long before he arrived.

We had everyone sworn to secrecy before Max’s arrival. Max didn’t get to use his fire extinguisher and his interrogation as to the identity of the perpetrators was fruitless (although he did have some mighty strong and correct suspicions).

The next morning, Max reported the incident to the school. We were led in, one by one, to the principal’s office and thoroughly interrogated. An associate of ours, Scot #2, was also included even though he rode a different bus and had nothing to do with the explosion. He lived a good ten miles away from the rest of us. He had been included in the investigation because he was one of our friends. They suspected he was guilty because of his associates.

When Mr. Johnson finally ascertained the guilt of those involved, he assigned the number of hacks each person was going to get. Brian was informed that he was going to get three hacks for detonating the gaseous vapors.  Scot #1 was informed he would get a couple of hacks for providing the explosive mixture. Scot #2 was informed that he also was going to get a couple of hacks.

I might mention at this point that these “hacks” hurt in a big way. Each hack would take your breath away and bring tears to your eyes, no matter how tough you were. Red were the wide welts you would sport between your knees and your botox, I mean buttocks.

Scot #2 was shocked. He protested that he was innocent. “What am I getting hacked for? I wasn’t even there!”

The head teacher/vice principal paused, searching for a reason, and while shaking the paddle at him directly under his nose, responded “Well…well……you’ve got…” He thought and thought. Somewhere in these pauses, he must have realized Scot #2 had done nothing wrong. However, he was mad and also knew he needed to keep the upper hand. Besides that, he was just getting warmed up with his swing. “You’ve got…a bad attitude!” All the other kids laughed except innocent Scot #2. He got hacked with the rest.

            As the summer approached each year, the weather would turn hot. This brought out the water balloons. Of course, these were strictly forbidden but nevertheless fully utilized, becoming more prevalent as each day rolled by. Summer vacation was approaching and water fights were the order of the day. Air conditioners were the grown-ups way to fight the heat. Water balloons were the kids way to fight…the other kids.

As the last days of school arrived, Max would look through each student’s carry-on baggage to verify there was no water contraband. Max was every bit as efficient as your everyday garden-variety Homeland Security baggage screener of today and besides that, Max had a personality.

While this exercise was going on, kids outside the bus handed boxes filled with balloons to kids inside the back of the bus through the windows. For every water balloon Max confiscated at the front, 15 or 20 were shoveled in the back. This procedure in and of itself was great fun. I imagine Max would figure he had done a great job until the balloons started flying. He probably stayed awake at night wondering how that many balloons had slipped by him.

By the time the first ten minutes had passed, several inches of water would be sloshing about on the floor of the bus. Whenever the bus turned, the water would rush to the side of the bus opposite the turn.  Everyone inside the bus was soaked, including Max. Once in a while, if we came on a road construction crew or went past a car stopped at a stop sign, it and anything else within range would get pelted. I remember a guy on a road construction crew waving to the nice kids on the bus only to get nailed in the chest with a water balloon. The busload of kids roared.  I think Scot #1 threw that particular cooling device.

If and when I ever get to heaven, I’m going to find Max, apologize and then see if he wants to have a water balloon fight. If I don't get to heaven, it'll probably be because of something I did to Max on the bus.


Brian and Jennifer said...

Seriously--the nerve you had for doing such things is amazing! Poor Poor Max!

Krista said...

We are having the best times reading these blogs. It just brings back so many memories of naughtiness in school. Kent was a saint, but not me. Ben, you need to be a paid entertainer.